Two prominent peasant leaders, Teófilo Acuña and Jorge Tafur were shot dead in the South of Cesar on February 22nd. Around 9:30 pm, armed men in camouflage uniforms entered a residential house in Puerto Oculto hamlet, San Martin municipality and killed the social leaders in front of their friends and family members. Teofilo and Jorge faced years of paramilitary death threats, persecution by multinational companies, police harassment and politically motivated judicial persecution.
Teófilo and Jorge had for decades defended peasant and small-scale miner communities from extractive industries that were usurping land and natural resources in Southern Bolivar and the South of Cesar. They defended the rights of the most vulnerable people in rural areas. Lately, Teófilo was leading a struggle against the drying up of floodplain lakes and the appropriation of communal lands by large scale landowners and agribusinesses in the region. He denounced the complicity of the Colombian state in the usurpation of public lands and environmental destruction.
Despite severe threats by paramilitaries and systematic persecution by the state, Teofilo and Jorge dedicated their whole lives to the struggle for the rights of the poor rural communities. They understood the threats they faced. Jorge recently explained the dangers that social leaders face:
We almost hold our hearts in our hands when we speak because we do not know if it is the last time we can speak.
But they also told us that the movement could not be silenced. Teofilo said:
They have always believed that by murdering a social leader, they will stop our social project. That will not be so easy because it is not a person; it is a movement.
Both leaders were members of the Interlocution Commission of Southern Bolivar, Central and Southern Cesar, Southern Magdalena and Santander Processes (CISBCSC). Jorge Tafur, a long-time unionist and peasant leader, was recently elected to the National Board of the National Agrarian Coordinator (Coordinador Nacional Agrario – CNA). Teofilo Acuña was a President of the Federation of Agro-Mining Unions in South Bolivar (Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolivar – FEDEAGROMISBOL), where he represented peasant communities whose livelihoods depended on agriculture and small-scale gold mining. He led opposition to multinational mining companies in the territory and came to London to protest Anglo American AGM in 2008. Both were actively involved in the People’s Congress (Congreso de los Pueblos).
In a 2008 interview about the cost of confronting Colombian paramilitaries and multinational corporations, Teofilo explained:
resistance will go on and must go on. Our struggle is one which is being carried out around the world. We need to globalize this struggle so that we can achieve a better world
Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries for social leaders. Colombian civil society organisations consider the killings and treats against rural social leaders to be a systematic strategy of violence in territories. In their statement, the People’s Congress indicate that the Colombian state has direct responsibility for the murder of Teofilo Acuña and Jorge Tafur by omission to protect their lives.
The Colombia Solidarity Campaign sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of our two comrades, and to the social movements to which they dedicated their lives.
Teófilo and Jorge Presente, Presente!